Is Your Boss Gaslighting You?

6 min
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Have you ever questioned yourself with thoughts of, “Am I good enough?” or “Maybe I am not suitable for this job” after interacting with your boss? Or do you constantly doubt yourself, always feeling confused because your boss seems to be showering you with compliments one day, while totally berating you for even the smallest thing on the next? 

Perhaps you’ve seen them tell obvious lies, only to turn around and completely deny it all a moment later一or they find a way to blame situations on you, making inappropriate remarks, and telling you that you’re being hypersensitive or dramatic when you try to speak up or express your discomfort. 

If this sounds familiar to you, your boss might be gaslighting you. Gaslighting is a psychological manipulation technique that can harm your confidence and self-esteem. If you suspect that your boss might be gaslighting you, we’ve got your back and are here to help you deal with this toxic situation.

Read on for an outline of gaslighting in the workplace, how to recognize a gaslighter boss, and how to protect yourself against it. 

What Is Gaslighting?

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that leaves the victim doubting reality, questioning themselves, and feeling confused. Gaslighting can be done intentionally or without a purpose. For instance, someone may be unintentionally gaslighting you due to their inability to deal with their own insecurities or fears. 

Gaslighting can be extremely harmful as it involves the manipulation of emotion. If you are a victim of gaslighting, you may often feel confused, with a loss of self-belief or even questioning your sanity.  Gaslighters love twisting the event and denying the reality. It is considered to be a serious form of emotional abuse that can cause the victim to suffer from low self-confidence and low self-esteem, and lead to other mental health issues. And it can happen in a variety of different relationships, including romantic relationships, friendships, and at work.

What Is Gaslighting In The Workplace? 

Although gaslighting is observed most commonly in romantic relationships, it can occur through a variety of other interpersonal dynamics, such as in the workplace. It is not uncommon for this to happen, especially when working for a toxic boss, or in a toxic work environment.

A gaslighter boss might be the type of person who does not want their victim to become successful. Their words, actions, and general behavior can leave someone constantly questioning their ability, feeling confused, or even concluding that everything that goes wrong ー or even things that are making them uncomfortable ー are their fault. The ultimate goal of a gaslighter boss is typically to control you, to put you down in an attempt to make themselves look good or feel better, to make you leave, or even get you fired.

Such emotional manipulation is extremely harmful一it can kill your motivation at work, as well as your reputation, or leave you questioning your reality or sanity. Detecting a gaslighter boss can be hard, as gaslighters are very good at manipulating people一but if you know what to look for it becomes easier to identify it, so you can take control of or put a stop to this behavior.  Below are a few common signs that your boss might be a gaslighter.

Signs That Your Boss Might Be A Gaslighter 

1. Your boss always blames you.

If your boss is making you feel like anything and everything terrible that happens is your fault, and this has left you convinced that you’re incapable of ever doing your job well, your boss might be a gaslighter.

It is important to clearly understand the difference between a tough boss and a toxic or gaslighting one, however: A tough boss may scold you when you’ve done something wrong at work, but they tend to provide constructive criticism with the aim of helping you grow or overcome your challenges, which is beneficial for your improvement in the long-term. A toxic gaslighter, on the other hand, will make you doubt your abilities without giving any type of constructive feedback on your work, or any means for improvement or growth. 

2. Your boss keeps denying reality. 

“I did not say that.” “I’ve never done that.” “You must be imagining things.” The constant use of phrases like this can be a red flag. 

A gaslighter boss may tell you one thing only to deny what they said or what happened afterwards. Another means that gaslighters use to undermine someone’s reality can be when they refuse to acknowledge something that is happening. Some examples can include telling you the wrong times and dates for important meetings, only to later claim that that never happened or that they had indeed given you the correct details. Another example can be if you feel like you’re being bullied or treated unfairly by another coworker, and you’re told that you’re just being hyper-sensitive. 

The goal of a gaslighter here is to make you feel confused about the situation, misleading you to conclude that maybe it is indeed you who are wrong, or in the wrong. 

3. Your boss negatively compares you to your colleagues.

“Sarah is doing an excellent job! Why aren’t you more like her?” “Why can’t you be more productive, like Alex?” “James always manages to ask in a way that’s much more friendly and receptive, you come across very aggressive and should learn from him.” If you notice that your boss keeps comparing you to other employees, in a way that always puts you down while placing others on a pedestal of sorts, then they might be gaslighting you. These comparisons can discourage you from doing your job well, and generally use a third person as an example of success to illustrate how you are failing. This can lower your spirits and eventually make you lose confidence in your job, or even destroy your relationships with other colleagues.

4. Your company has a high turnover rate.

A company’s turnover rate speaks a lot about a company’s culture. If you notice that staff in your company often do not stay for very long, it can be a red flag that something might be wrong with the management – and if your boss is a large part of perpetuating the negative aspects of this culture, then they might be a gaslighter. 

Whatever their reason, a gaslighter boss enjoys manipulating staff’s feelings to make them feel worthless and “not good enough.” If gaslighting in the workplace is an ongoing or prolonged occurrence, some employees may decide to leave the company to avoid the negativity it can bring. 

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What Should I Do If My Boss Is Gaslighting Me? 

1. Note down what is being said.

Keeping a record of what actually happened can help you interpret things better. If you suspect that your boss might be a gaslighter, write down the direct quotes of what they said, the date of the conversation, where the conversation took place, and, most importantly, their responses. If the communication happened digitally, you can save a copy or screenshot of it instead. Not only does documentation help you to maintain your sanity, separating fact and reality from any information that may be twisted later on, but it can also help act as proof if you want to seek help by approaching someone in HR, another senior colleague who has the power to help, or even legal advice, in the future.

2. Avoid meeting your boss one-on-one.

It might be challenging to avoid your boss one-on-one, especially if they directly invite you to have a meeting with them. However, if you can, try to avoid meeting them alone, whether that’s discussing essential tasks ‘on the floor’ (if it’s an open-plan office, for instance), or finding a suitable reason to have a third person involved, as a witness. If there is private digital communication, while this makes it easier to keep a copy of it and automatically adds a layer of protection due to the trail or record this would leave behind, it could be wise to add someone in on CC if possible. Another option could be to follow up all verbal meetings with a written follow-up email, in a way that recaps what happened. 

Attending a meeting in private with a gaslighter boss can give them a chance to later deny what they said, further misleading or manipulating a situation. Having a witness between you and the gaslighter boss is a way to survive from being gaslighted at work.

3. Seek help, or legal advice.

Gaslighting at the workplace is very serious, as it can make the victim question their own abilities and affect their mental health一and due to the environment or context, one can feel very powerless about putting a stop to it. If you think that your boss might be a gaslighter and you feel emotionally abused at work, don’t be afraid to seek, whether that’s from your Human Resources representative, another colleague ー perhaps someone else in a senior position, or who may be in a position with the authority to help you ー or even professional help from the law. In any of these cases, a calm approach backed by evidence that you’ve collected through keeping a record of what’s happened will help. Reaching out to labor attorneys or contacting organizations that promote equal employment opportunities can also help you understand your workplace rights. 

4. Walk away.

Due to the nature of the abuse, victims of workplace gaslighting often find reasons to justify the behavior of the gaslighter. If they have been very effectively manipulated into believing that they are the one at fault, a victim may even find it hard to believe or admit that they are being gaslit. They might try to make sense of the situation with thoughts or words such as, “ “All bosses are hard to deal with”, “Many people dislike their supervisor”, or even “I deserve this because I am always wrong, and I should feel bad that I’m not better.” 

Whether it’s at the workplace or elsewhere, gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse that can lead to serious consequences. If you realize that your boss might be a gaslighter, and you’ve exhausted all of your options ー from first trying to talk reasonably to the boss in question, to reaching out to others for help ー and you’re still experiencing the same issues to your detriment, it might be time to consider quitting. In such a situation, the longer you stay, the harder it could be to leave or heal ー and remember, your mental health is one of the most important aspects of your well-being! 

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All of the content on our website is thoroughly researched to ensure that the information shared is evidence-based. For more information, please visit the academic journals that influenced this article: The Sociology of Gaslighting; Personality Correlates of Gaslighting Behaviours in Young Adults; Gaslighting---No, It's Not Me, It's You 

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